Bale and Bryce Dallas Howard in 'Terminator Salvation'
Christian Bale can still remember the first time he saw T2. He'd just moved to Los Angeles to live with his father and to get serious about his fledgling acting career. No sooner did the 17-year Bale step off the plane than he decided to check out the latest Arnold Schwarzenegger adrenaline rush at the local multiplex.
"It was opening weekend and I couldn't hear a damn thing that was said in the movie because everyone was screaming so much," he recalls. "So, it was my introduction to American audiences but also to a movie that just seemed to make everybody crazy in a way that I really enjoyed."
Cut to 18 years later when Bale, now riding a wave of success thanks to his turns in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, was offered a role in Terminator Salvation, the fourth installment in the mega-successful series.
Listen in as Bale discusses playing John Connor, time-traveling for the upcoming Public Enemies and the prospect of lightening up.
Newsarama: Christian, given your enthusiasm for T2, were you immediately excited about doing the sequel?
Christian Bale: The idea of doing another one didn't seem smart to me. But - and there are no other similarities between the movies - the initial idea of reviving Batman [didn't seem smart either]… I came to believe that there were some potentially good stories here and that I enjoyed `Terminator' enough that I'd like to see it revived.
NRAMA: You opted not to play the then-larger role of Marcus Wright but went after playing John Connor instead. What went into that decision?
BALE: I can't remember really why... I've read in a few places that people said I was unhappy with the original script. I wasn't the only one. Everybody was saying that there needed to be changes made to it. Connor was a character who appeared very, very briefly in that original, which I was happy to do if the story could become something worthy of reviving this mythology.
However, we had a few writers because of the writers' strike. Coming off that, we were very lucky for a short time that my friend [`Dark Knight' scripter Jonathan] Nolan came in. [Nolan] said to me, 'Christian, do you want me to write this with the same involvement that Connor has in the original or do you want me to increase it?' I said, 'I don't mind what you do. Whatever the best story is'…He couldn't find a way that made sense and that also gave a connection to the previous movies without having Connor involved more than he was in that original [`T4'] script.
NRAMA: By now, everyone knows Arnold has a cameo in the film. Was he ever on the set or was his image culled exclusively from previously shot footage?
BALE: Arnold didn't have to expend one second of time.
NRAMA: Did you ask for a meeting afterwards just to hang out?
BALE: Oh, no. Look, strangely I've bumped into him a few times. I've worked with some of his family members in the past. So there's a kind of recognition.
NRAMA: Do you count yourself an Arnie fan?
BALE: I think it's always admirable when you're the originator. Of course, Arnold has had many imitators and we've sort of moved on now from the '80's and those big, beefy action guys but he was the first, and so hat's off to him. You look at what that guy has achieved and it's phenomenal. So, yeah, absolutely, I'm a fan. I get a big thrill out of seeing the scene where Connor faces off against the original T-800.
NRAMA: At heart, the Terminator movies about the evils of technology. What gadgets do you find scary?
BALE: Those things, like photo downloads, which tell you where you took every single picture, down to the damn street. It's very Big Brother. It's fascinating but it's very Big Brother, as well. Security systems where people have all the cameras setup in their homes - I'm convinced that there's someone watching and listening the entire time. GM has that online On Star in cars. You can press a button and speak with somebody and they can hear what you're saying. Oh, yeah, like they're not listening in an awful lot of the time.
NRAMA: In retrospect, why do you think The Dark Knight seemed to strike a chord with so many film-goers?
BALE: With 'Dark Knight' [director] Chris [Nolan] managed to delve into uncomfortable ethical questions but his talent is such that there's a duality to the movie. You could come away with some really substantial questions but you could also just see the movie as a pure entertainment spectacle. That's Chris's talent - being able to balance and juggle the two.
NRAMA: So, you're stuck on a desert island. Who would you prefer for company: John Connor or Batman?
BALE: I wouldn't want to be stranded with either of them. They're men.
NRAMA: What if you had to pick?
BALE: But I don't have to pick. Does either of them have a gun? Shoot one of them and then I'm happier. I don't think that they're good guys for hanging out with on the beach.
NRAMA: When do you think Chris will get around to the next Batman movie?
BALE: I've definitely learned my lesson [about these kinds of questions]. I don't mention anything until Chris has mentioned it first.
NRAMA: Was Public Enemies a good experience for you?
BALE: Absolutely fantastic. [Director] Michael Mann, I think, is one of the finest filmmakers around. His ability for all aspects of filmmaking is stunning. His thoroughness - I just loved. He's big on research, attention to detail. His perception of exactly what each actor is doing at any given moment is truly stunning. I liked my experience working with him as much as any that I've ever been through on any movie. I would certainly love to repeat it because you don't get people with his kind of talent very often.
NRAMA: Was it cool to step back into time to Depression-era Chicago?
BALE: It's just a wonderful period in every way but especially in terms of the clothing, the cars and the guns. This was the last dying breath of guns that seemed to have some sort of character to them. The ones that we have nowadays are absolutely fatal and have incredible precision, much more so than the others, but these were the last ones where there's actual wood. I would like to smell [my gun] after shooting it - and I kind of enjoyed carrying it around with me.
NRAMA: How about working with Johnny Depp, who plays John Dillinger to your Melvin Purvis?
BALE: I think that Johnny is a superb actor. What I like so much about him is that there's nobody else like him. We don't know each other in the slightest. I met him at the script read through. We chatted for five or ten minutes. I had two scenes with him, one in which he was in a jail cell…and another in which we were about 200 hundred feet away from each other. He was a silhouette in a window that I was shooting at. And then I was behind a tree and he was shooting at me. That was the closest we got to each other that evening. So I'll get to know Johnny somewhere down the line because it certainly didn't happen on this movie.
NRAMA: From The Machinist through the Batman movies and now Terminator Salvation and Public Enemies, your films are increasingly intense. Are you ever tempted to lighten up and do a comedy?
BALE: Hey, look, Terminator is a lighter movie, don't you think? It's not 'Apocalypse Now'. I mean, we intend for people to have a good fun ride. It's a good summer movie. I call that a lighter film. No matter how gray and dark you might want to make it, it's essentially a movie to have fun to. Watch it with a crowd.